“You don’t have to go yet, do you”?
“I’m afraid so. I’ve got a lot to do”.
A cool breeze drifted through the balcony doors and caressed Marsa’s skin as she left Toma’s bed. Around her feet was a chaos of the clothes they’d worn to the Assemblage Station. She went to the centre of the room, then stopped and took a moment to decide what to do with herself. Her personal assistant ogled her from his bed, covers pulled to just past his middle.
“You’ve got time to rest a little while”.
“No, Toma. I really don’t”. She shouldn’t have been there in the first place. There were far more important matters to attend to. But after the day she’d had so far, Marsa had needed something to relieve the stress, if only for a little while. Even if she did have the time, she’d have no desire to spend it getting cosy with her assistant. She’d already gotten everything she needed from him, a layer of cold sweat glazing her skin and legs still trembling from the energetic sex they’d just shared.
The bathroom door closed behind her; Marsa stepped into the shower. She took a sponge from the rack and began scrubbing her sex clean of her assistant’s ejaculate. They didn’t use protection when they fucked. Pregnancy wasn’t an issue thanks to her implant, and, for her own peace of mind, she made sure Toma got himself checked regularly for infection. She didn’t care what he did when they weren’t together as long as he kept the details of their relationship to himself. Once satisfied she was clear of his seed, she set to work on the rest of her body. She’d always been meticulous about her cleanliness, especially after sex. She liked to feel dirty during the act, but not afterward. Finished, Marsa turned off the water and let the driers take over.
Toma was still undressed and still in bed when she returned, much to Marsa’s annoyance. “I need you ready to go now. We have to be back in a half hour”.
“Come on. It can wait a bit longer”.
“No it can’t, Toma! We need to go now”.
Toma sighed. “Alright fine. Just give me a couple minutes. I’ve got no energy left thanks to you”.
“I don’t recall you having to work very hard”, Marsa replied as she made her way to the walk-in wardrobe.
“You still tired me out. I’ve never known anyone ride me as hard as you”.
Marsa went to the set of drawers where she kept some of her clothes, pressed two fingers to the middle drawer. It opened.“Are you really serious about this”? she heard Toma call as she surveyed the contents.
“Yes”, she called back, picking out a set of sheer black underwear. She turned in time to see Toma appear in the doorway, still naked.
“Are you sure”?
“No”, Marsa admitted as she pulled up her thong. “But it’s already done. I have to do this”. She put on her matching bra and returned to the drawer.
After leaving the V-space, Marsa immediately began to regret her decision. Only after sitting down and thinking did she fully understand the gravity of what she’d volunteered herself for. Kamrack was right; it was insane, practically suicidal. She wanted nothing more than to call everyone back and tell them she’d changed her mind. But it was too late. What would she look like to the Executive Council if she went back on herself?
“It just seems really dangerous”.
“It is”. Marsa pulled out a pair of grey wide-legged trousers, stepped into them. “But the Confederacy needs help and they’re the only ones who can give it. I know it’s risky. I understand if you don’t want to come”.
“No, I do. I want to be with you”.
Marsa felt a jolt of discomfort. “We’ve been over this, Toma”, she told him as she put on a white blouse.
“I know… I just feel like there could be more”.
Marsa turned to him, annoyed. “I’ve told you, about a dozen times now. There can be no more to us than there already is. I made that perfectly clear at the beginning of this arrangement and you agreed and, no matter how many times you bring it up, I won’t change my mind”. It annoyed Marsa to no end every time Toma insisted on trying to make their relationship more than it could ever be. She’d already explained the rules, but he just couldn’t seem to get it into his skull.
“Can’t you at least think about it”?
“There’s nothing to think about. This relationship serves only one purpose, and you agreed to that. If you keep trying to change that then I’m afraid you’ll force me to look elsewhere to have my needs satisfied”. She’d been considering ending it with Toma as it was. He was proving far more trouble than he was worth.
“No, please don’t. I’m sorry I said anything. I won’t talk about it again. I promise”. Marsa didn’t hold much faith in him keeping that promise.
“Good”. She put on a grey jacket to match her trousers, then the silver signet ring she went nowhere without. “See that you don’t”. She’d already found love once and lost it. Never again did she want to feel its sting. The only reason she kept things going with Toma was the convenience that came with having him for a personal assistant. No one asked questions about why she spent so much time with him. Due to the hectic nature of her job, there was little time to go out and meet new people, and she didn’t wish to risk the scandal that would certainly ensue if she were caught using the service of prostitutes, nor had she ever been interested in trying out the “sexbots” on the market, no matter how realistic or lifelike they were touted as being.
Another handy aspect of her arrangement with Toma was being able to use his apartment at the heart of Tylest for their trysts. Tylest was the capital of Valarayan, making it the capital city of the Human Sovereignty too. Valarayan’s status as a bustling hub of commerce made it a natural choice for the capital of the Human Sovereignty under the newly-formed United Galactic Confederacy, seeing as the former capital, their species’ own home, was now under the control of the Imperium. Of the many cities she’d visited across the Confederacy, Tylest was one of Marsa’s favourites. The cobbled streets, canals and parkways, and the architecture based on the classical Gothic phase from Karasen before the Chinchi’s discovery of man made it seem like a place where everything ticked along at a laid-back pace, a sharp contrast to the busy metropolis you’d expect the capital of the Human Sovereignty to be. It reminded Marsa why, even if she weren’t Chancellor, there would be no other place she’d rather live.
Capital House was the headquarters of the Human government. Those who passed its front doors were met with floors laid with grey tiles, walls of frosted glass and exotic plants and works of modern art. Holo-screens on every wall displayed the latest news from across the galaxy, Marsa’s meeting with Nero being the foremost topic of discussion. Toma walked beside her, finally dressed though, every time she looked to him, more and more Marsa wished she’d allowed him the rest of the day off. He was hardly presentable. He’d only taken a quick shower before throwing on the same clothes he’d worn before he got into bed with her. His hair was uncombed, his collar was a disaster, and Marsa could smell more than a hint of body odour beneath his deodorant. She was just thankful she hadn’t taken him to the Assemblage Station in that state.
The receptionist looked up from her holo-screen and greeted them with a smile. Marsa returned the favour before they entered the elevator. Toma hit the button for the top floor. Marsa stared out the windows at the lobby as they began their ascent. She gave her assistant a sideways look. “Fix that collar. It’s been bothering me since we left”.
“Sorry Madam Chancellor”. Toma quickly did as he was told. Their relationship outside Capital House was a closely-guarded secret of hers, to the point where even her closest friends and associates knew nothing of what they got up to when not on the clock. Even when no one was listening, she insisted he address her professionally.
The ride to the top floor was mostly quiet. Toma hummed to himself while Marsa reflected on the uncertainty that awaited her, twiddling the silver signet ring at her left index finger, like she always did when she was nervous. All she could think about was the possible suicide mission she’d roped herself into. As Kamrack also said, nothing like it had ever been attempted in the history of the Confederacy, or even the Collective. There was no telling what awaited her, or what could happen when she reached her destination, if she did at all. She could be leading her own people to their deaths. And what about Tobiah and Allenna? The thought that she might never see them again filled Marsa with dread, as did the thought of what might become of them without their mother. He was only four; she was only two. She hadn’t seen them in days, what with her work. She likely wouldn’t get to see them before she set off either. They were all Marsa could think about on her way to her office. Even as she sat opposite General Stell and Vice-Chancellor Langton, she found it difficult to focus on anything else, so much that she almost forgot they were there.
“Madam Chancellor”? Marsa returned to her office to find the General staring at her.
“I’m sorry. What did you say, General”? She caught the Vice-Chancellor’s eye, detected judgment. He should try volunteering himself for a potential suicide mission.
“I asked you, are you sure about this”?
“No”, Marsa admitted for the second time since returning from the V-Space. “But what choice is there”?
“Don’t go. We can send someone to speak on your behalf”.
She’d considered that option. “They’ll probably take the proposal more seriously if one of the Executive Council goes. And besides, I won’t sit behind my desk and let others risk their lives for something like this”.
“This is extremely risky, Madam Chancellor. The Aq Quhn Ran Asten are unpredictable”.
“I know that, General”, Marsa replied sharper than she’d intended. “But I’ve already given my word to the council. My decision is made. This meeting is so I can tell you what I expect while I’m gone”. She wasn’t about to leave without making sure her government and people were in good hands.
“What do you have in mind, Madam Chancellor”? Nill asked. No doubt he was very much looking forward to leading in her stead, perhaps even hoping it would end up becoming permanent. He hadn’t once voiced any concern for her wellbeing.
“As I am sure you will be happy to hear, Vice-Chancellor, you will be acting chancellor for the duration that I am gone”. The Vice-Chancellor’s smirk betrayed his satisfaction. “You will have the full authority of the office of Chancellor, over the cabinet as well as within parliament and on the Executive Council”.
“I can assure you, Madam Chancellor, I- ”
“However”, Marsa interrupted before he could get to his perfunctory thanks and thin promises. “You will also be working alongside the General and will consult with him on all issues. He will attend all meetings with the cabinet, parliament, the Assembly and the Executive Council and you will take into account his advice in all matters. I trust you have no objections to this”?
The Vice-Chancellor’s smirk vanished. “Madam Chancellor, with all due respect and with the utmost respect to General Stell, but I don’t see what qualifies him to have a say in matters that have nothing to do with the military”.
“This is my decision, Vice-Chancellor. And if you want to be acting chancellor then you will accept it”.
He gave a reluctant nod, no doubt aware that it was pointless to argue. “As you wish, Madam Chancellor”.
“Good. I have already informed the Executive Council of my decision so they know to expect the two of you at their meetings. Once we’re finished here, I will attend a meeting with the cabinet to inform them of what’s happening. We’ll also work on a cover story to give to the media and parliament. We can’t risk Nero learning of this, as I am sure you are both aware”.
The General nodded. “Absolutely, Madam Chancellor”.
“So that leaves only one more order of business. I require a ship and a crew to get me to the Aq Quhn Ran Asten homeworld”. The Princinta was no good for such a long and dangerous journey. It’s warp drive was nowhere near powerful enough to get her all that way and people would ask questions if it was gone for any length of time. She needed a warship, and the best soldiers the navy had to offer. Perhaps then if things turned sour they would have some chance of making it out with their lives.
“I wouldn’t recommend anything bigger than a cruiser”, the General said. “The smaller the ship, the less likely they will be to feel threatened though, to be honest, any kind of warship will likely provoke hostility from the Empire. A stealth ship would be best, something that can remain undetected until the time is right, but I wouldn’t recommend appearing out of nowhere on their doorstep. That would almost certainly draw a violent reaction”.
“I need a ship with adequate defences in case that does happen. And troops capable of defending it”.
Marsa watched the cogs turn in the General’s head. This wasn’t a decision to be made lightly. “Based on the needs of the mission, I’d recommend… the U.S.N Rimor. It’s a Class One Cruiser from the 31st fleet: small and fast. Like most ships of its class, it has a variety of stealth systems. They should help you traverse Empire space without being detected. It is commanded by Captain Senu Oross. He’s a fine officer. He has served the navy well aboard the Seather and the Vamuta before joining the Rimor under Captain Metorca. He took over command upon Metorca’s retirement. He’s one of the first I would trust with a mission like this”.
Marsa liked what she was hearing. “What about soldiers”?
“The Rimor has one garrison of marines aboard, augmented by a detachment of Automata. They’re commanded by Captain Llannaeia Aventius. She’s one of the youngest captains the military has ever seen, and one of the most capable. In the years she’s been with us, she has served valiantly and receives regular praise from her superiors and subordinates. If there’s anyone I would trust with this, it’s them. I believe they will be returning shortly from another successful assignment”.
Marsa was sold. She trusted the General’s judgment more than just about anyone else’s. If the U.S.N Rimor was the ship he recommended then it was the only one she would take “Very well, General. If that is your recommendation, then I trust it. Thank you”.
“You do realize, Madam Chancellor, that, if you are detected, some little cruiser and a bunch of marines aren’t going to be much of a match for the Empire if they decide they don’t want you in their territory”, said Nill in his usual know-it-all fashion.
The General shot the Vice-Chancellor a glare. “The Rimor and its crew are some of the finest the navy has to offer, Vice-Chancellor. Both in this sovereignty and the Confederacy”.
“That may be so but, with all due respect, General, the Aq Quhn Ran Asten possess significant technological and military advantages over not just us but the whole Confederacy. I think it would be prudent of you not to risk our people’s lives, including that of our Chancellor, by overestimating the abilities of your soldiers”. The Vice-Chancellor was doing what he did best: getting his mouth going about things he knew nothing about. He never missed a chance to undermine the General, no doubt bitter about having him looking over his shoulder.
“And I think it would be prudent of you, Vice-Chancellor, not to voice opinions of things you have no knowledge of”.
“I appreciate your concern, Vice-Chancellor”, Marsa Interjected before an argument started. “But I trust the General’s judgment, as should you. The U.S.N Rimor will take me to the Aq Quhn Ran Asten homeworld. Now, if there’s nothing else to discuss, I have a meeting with the cabinet to attend”.
It took a while to get the cabinet together, being at such short notice and its members busy contending with all manner of other issues. Despite understanding too well, Marsa found the wait no less frustrating. She’d hoped to get away from Capital House as soon as possible in order to spend some time with Tobiah and Alenna before she got ready to leave. It would be over an hour after leaving the General and Vice-Chancellor before her meeting with the cabinet got underway. As expected, they all reacted with the same shock and surprise when she told them about her mission, before telling her all the things she’d heard already.
“The Aq Quhn Ran Asten are extremely dangerous”, said Defence secretary, Jumell Oswara.
“They could kill you”, Esmett Battell, Secretary of Commerce, told her.
“This is extremely risky”, warned Secretary of Public Health, Fronda Wuryat.
“You can send someone else in your place”.
“Are you sure about this”?
It was only when they’d calmed down and accepted that her mind was made up that the meeting began in earnest. Marsa told them that the Vice-Chancellor would be in charge during her absence under the supervision of General Stell. There were no objections but she knew most, if not all, weren’t keen on having the Vice-Chancellor in charge despite the General being around to keep him in check. They then worked on the cover story to be fed to the parliament and media. It was decided that for at least the next week (though likely longer), the Chancellor of the Human Sovereignty would be housebound with a moderate case of Ominata-Phemoritosis, an unpleasant and highly-contagious but usually non-fatal disease native to Valarayan. That would hopefully buy her enough time to get to the Aq Quhn Ran Asten homeworld and back before her absence aroused suspicion. The Vice-Chancellor would make the announcement tomorrow so as to explain why she seemed in good health when seen in Capital House that day.
On her way home, Marsa stared out the window of her car as it weaved between the skyscrapers kissed by the sun that had already begun its slow descent. The meeting with the cabinet took longer than expected, finishing in the late afternoon and leaving her with little time to spend with her children. They’d probably be tired from their day at school, and she was drained herself. She also didn’t have the energy for dealing with their father. Their relationship had always been turbulent, even before Marsa discovered his numerous infidelities and their subsequent divorce. She would see them tomorrow instead, when she was well-rested and had more time. They would play and she would remind them how much she loved them, all the while keeping it a secret that it may well be the last time they ever saw her. She hoped she’d be able to hold back her tears. Despite having become very good at it, she failed miserably on the ride home. After the meeting with the cabinet had concluded, Marsa realized she was one step closer to embarking on her possible suicide mission. She lowered her head in the hope of hiding her tears from her bodyguards sitting opposite. Nightfall wasn’t far off by the time she got home. It had been a hectic day, and the next few promised to be the same. There was so much to be done, but first what Marsa needed more than anything else was to sleep.